“This Is Why We Wanted to Win” — Raptors Players Overwhelmed By Support at Championship Parade

Kawhi Leonard on the Championship Parade route in Toronto holding his finals MVP trophy.

Photo: Steve Russell/Getty Images

On Monday, the Larry O’Brian Trophy made its way down the streets of Toronto, held tightly by Kyle Lowry. It’s a day Raptors fans had been waiting for for 24 years, and the moment wasn’t lost on the millions who lined the streets.

The Raptors made history on Thursday night defeating the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, winning their first ever NBA championship.

It’s estimated that over two million people showed up for the championship parade, lining the route and filling Nathan Phillips Square near Toronto City Hall, where a rally was held upon the team’s arrival.

Justin Trudeau greets Lowry at Nathan Philips Square after the championship parade.
Justin Trudeau greets Lowry at Nathan Philips Square after the championship parade. (Photo: Instagram/Prime Minister Trudeau)

There, they were met by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who handed Toronto Star forward Kawhi Leonard the key to the city.

He also announced that a portion of Bremner Boulevard, just outside of the Raptor’s home arena, will be renamed Raptors Way.

TORONTO, ON- JUNE 17 - Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) as the Toronto Raptors hold their victory parade after beating the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals in Toronto. June 17, 2019. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

All sixteen members of the roster rode on the top floor of five open-air double-decker buses, waving to fans, smoking cigars and spraying the crowds with champagne.

The Toronto crowds, which spilled out onto the road and delayed the procession several hours, even surprised the players, who thought they had grasped the magnitude of what this championship meant to the fans.

“It’s amazing, this shows you how many years these fans have been waiting for this and this shows you how bad they want it,” Serge Ibalka told Global News during an interview from the double-decker bus. “They’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.”

Drake holds the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy as the Toronto Raptors hold their victory parade.
Toronto rapper and Global Ambassador for the team Drake also joined the team in celebration aboard one of the double-decker buses. (Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

“It’s amazing. Everybody’s out. I don’t believe nobody went in to work today. Look at it. It’s amazing,” said Kawhi Leonard about the people lining the parade route, sitting on light posts and cheering from condo balconies.

The tens of thousands of fans at Nathan Phillips Square fell silent as an interview with Leonard was broadcast on the big screen.

Kawhi Leonard on the Championship Parade route in Toronto holding his finals MVP trophy.
Photo: Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

“Thank you Toronto, thank you Canada for the support. We did it,” he said as the crowd erupted.

How long these fans had been waiting was also evident from jerseys that could be spotted in the crowd. Mixed in with the new fangled “North” jerseys and championship shirts were a number of throwback jerseys from the Chris Bosh and Vince Carter eras and back through the expansion years of Damon Stoudamire, whose jersey Kyle Lowry decided to wear for the occasion.

Mathew Bowler, who remembers watching his first game at the Skydome — now Rogers Centre — said that bringing home the championship was extra special for this team and fans like him.

“We’re the only team in Canada. That’s the coolest thing about this,” Bowler said. “It’s got to feel weird for the rest of the United States to know the Larry O’Brien lives here.”

Head coach Nick Nurse said that the nation’s fan base played a large role in their success as well.

“The fans here have helped us a lot,” he told CTV News. “When they were singing O Canada in Game 1, you could see the looks on the Warriors’ faces. They knew they had their hands full … they knew the whole country was behind the team.”

Watch: Z News catches up with Raptors’ fans at the parade

Kyle Lowry, who, after advancing to the finals told reporters that he wasn’t satisfied, delivered yet another bold claim as he marvelled at the size of the crowd.

“This is why we wanted to win a championship,” he said of the overwhelming support.  “This is unbelievable, unbelievable, and we ain’t even close to being done.”